Arras Garden Furniture
by Appley Hoare
Over the years we have had some wonderful examples of the iron garden furniture that comes from Arras in Northern France. Each year this distinctive style of antique garden furniture is harder to find hence I thought our customers might be interested to read a little more about its special characteristics and its history………………..
The northern French town of Arras, so famous for the devastating battles in both the 1st and 2nd world wars, was also the producer of some of the most delightful wrought iron garden furniture.
The Arras iron foundry operated throughout the 19th century, until the beginning of the 1st world war when it was probably turned into a munitions factory.
The furniture they produced was innovative, stylish and strong. The iron was fashioned with a unique extrusion – rather like a tube split in half long ways, thus the actual lengths of iron used contain more iron per metre than the more commonly used flat iron. This unique style of extrusion has several distinct benefits.
Firstly, it is stronger than flat iron but not as heavy as a completely solid rod of iron. Secondly, with its rounded surface it is far more comfortable to sit on. Thirdly, the rounded surface prevents water collecting on it and causing the iron to rust. Lastly, the soft, curved character of the extrusion eliminates any sharp edges.
In its hay day the factory must have employed some very talented and imaginative designers who created many wonderful and unusual pieces of outdoor furniture. In their designs you can see the way the unique features of this extrusion have been maximized to make this furniture practical and comfortable. Round tables are edged with the curved metal, chair ends are rolled over, plant stands are softly formed to fit into corners, the arms on chairs and benches are rolled and forged into perfect shapes, gloriettes are sculpted into many evocative designs.
Another unique feature of Arras furniture is the feet that are used on all the pieces. It is one of the trademarks and will help you identify this furniture. Each table, chair or bench will either have cast iron lions paw feet or cast iron horses hooves. Also look out for a small brass plaque with the factory’s name stamped into it that was attached to each piece as it was completed. These usually say “Usine St Sauveur Arras” but I have seen some variations on this. Some of the furniture will also have the name of the maker embossed into the cast iron pieces used to join the centre of a table or the legs of chairs – these have often been over painted so many times that it is difficult to read them.
The Arras team of designers were not just searching for the most practical solutions but also for visual appeal. Table bases are forged into fabulous organic shapes and sometimes embellished with curved, coiled iron that is visually attractive and again adds to the strength of the piece. The proportions are always pleasing and the same attention to detail is given to a tiny table as is to a larger more important example.
Many of the items were specifically manufactured for public places such as benches for parks, fences for parks and gardens, stalls for stables and folding plant stands to display goods at markets, I have even seen a fabulous bridge and a huge step ladder but much of the furniture was made for private houses for customers patios or gardens.
For those who are passionate about Arras furniture as I am there is a wonderful facsimile catalogue called ‘Ornamental 19th century French Artistic Ironwork Catalogue’ – it is available through Potterton Books, London.
Now, 100 years after the factory at St. Sauveur-lez-Arras closed down, Arras furniture is very sort after and the pieces have become collector’s items. Thanks to its unique features and its durability we can still find some examples in good condition. For the dedicated collector it is a thrilling and rewarding experience to stumble across a piece of Arras that you haven’t seen before.